Anyone who’s played any BlazBlue story mode will know how text heavy they can get, each characters scenario can last anything up to an hour if you want all of the possible endings. Of course BlazBlue’s a fighting franchise so the story is broken up by the occasional bout. But what if you removed them and left players with just the plot. Taking place 150 years before the wheel of fate began to turn XBLAZE Code: Embryo is a visual novel that follows the journey of Touya Kagari a mysterious girl called Es and the power known as the Azure.
For the first half an hour you may be left questioning if this game really has any connection to the BlazBlue franchise. There’s no stubborn delinquent swinging around an unusual blade or stunning Hierarchical Cities. Instead we find ourselves in the more stereotypical visual novel scenario where we assume the life of an average high school student with his normal part-time job and his efforts to deal with the women around him. Then in traditional style Touya’s world takes a turn when a silent girl dressed in lace drops in to protect him from a superhuman Union that is trying to kill him through an ear-splitting screech attack. From there the story really picks up as Unions, Drives, Seithr and secretive organisations called the Mitsurugi Agency and the Acadamy appear all with one connection. You guessed it; Touya Kagari.
The story is very well written and it’ll easily appeal to anyone with an interest in BlazBlue or anime in general. While there are references and terminology linking this game to the BlazBlue universe no prior knowledge of the franchise is needed to fully enjoy this story. That’s not to say that you won’t occasionally get lost by it, a glossary is at hand to help but you may find yourself opening it a lot over the course of the game. All of the text has of course been translated from Japanese but there are no tells in the text unlike other VN titles. Not once in the story did I come across any mistakes in the writing; no grammar mistakes or mistranslated words, it really has received a top-notch localisation job.
Our protagonist is the seemingly ordinary Touya Kagari a highschool student and part-timer at the curry house “Maha Raja”. He’s your typical lead character curious, kind and compassionate but as we delve deeper into the story we learn of his tragic history and find out why everyone has suddenly taken an interest in him. Despite that at times the protagonist still comes off as rather bland and his personality is easily the weakest of the cast. As for the supporting players there’s a decent sized cast and you can expect your typical harem characters in there too. To list a few there’s the first character you meet in game is a girl whom our protagonist is living with Hinata Himezuru, portrayed as friendly and cheery she comes off as one who just loves enjoying life. On the opposite end of that scale is the Anti-Ability Warrior Es, who’s the sort that is naïve and ignorant of the world around her. A whole range of characters are thrown in over the course of the story all with enjoyable and interesting personalities (although it does take a bit longer for some to grow on you).
The only control the player has comes down how they utilise the TOi device which when used alters the stories path. Essentially it’s a news feed that displays articles based on the interests of our protagonist. To read or not to read really is the question as each article has some connection to the other characters. Depending on your choice events trigger at certain points in the timeline to gently nudge the plot along one of the 5 different ending scenarios. Choosing a specific route is incredibly difficult without the use of a walkthrough guide. Once an article has been opened it’s marked as read and you can make out which characters it’s linked to but it’s not clear which choice should have been made to reroute the plot along which path. Oh and reading all of them (something I initially did) does not get you the true ending. Although it’s unclear which route can be considered the “True Route”. The endings are completely different from each other, one character who was pivotal in one timeline can be side-lined in the next.
The start of the plot can make question the origins of this game but just one look at the art style and it’s pretty clear to see that unique Arc System Works style. Character designs are all varied and interesting to look at while the CG gallery is very extensive and features some gorgeous concept pieces. With this game having a strong cast of female characters expect to see the usual swimsuit and bathing scenes too. A niche feature is that characters don’t just stand idly on the left and right of scene, they’re drawn in more dynamic poses and they’re arranged in more interesting shots. For example during fights sequences Touya takes cover behind Es who enters a combat stance, there are even subtle things like behind the head shots where characters are chatting away in a group. This all makes for a more visually pleasing experience. However these more dynamic scenes seem to have been set out this way to make up for the lack of any fully animated anime sequences, it’s disappointing when you’ve seen it done very well in the franchises other titles.
XBLAZE Code: Embryo’s visual novel approach is a nice switch up to BlazBlue otherwise predominant fighting formula. The terminology can be somewhat confusing at times breaking your emersion often to check the glossary and trying to navigate the plot along a specific route can be very unclear without the use of a walkthrough. However the story will easily appeal to BlazBlue fans and it does enough to welcome in a wider audience too with a solid plot, a varied and interesting cast of characters and some gorgeous CG artwork.
This review is based off a review code of XBLAZE Code: Embryo provided by Funbox Media.
This review was originally published on the site GamersFTW which unfortunately has now been taken down. It’s been published on my personal blog, DanielVaughanReviews, out of respect for the developers/publishers that were kind enough to give me review copy of their game.